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Ohio Needs Forward-Thinking Clean Energy Policy

image credit: © Luckydoor | Dreamstime.com

Things could not be clearer. Ohio must immediately repeal House Bill 6, the abysmal energy law that sits at the center of last week’s arrest of the Ohio Speaker of the House—and a cadre of insiders and lobbyists—amidst federal bribery and racketeering charges. But repealing the “worst energy law of the century” is nowhere near sufficient. It’s time we have a serious conversation in Ohio about a forward-looking clean energy policy that can, once and for all, propel the state’s energy economy into the 21st century and make up for lost time in the fight against our changing climate.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear that we need to do everything we can over the next decade to clean up our electric grid. There are many ways that fossil fuel interests can try, and are trying, to convince us that this problem can wait, but the science is clear. Waiting is not an option. The 2020’s will be the most critical decade for making progress, and Ohio just stumbled out of the starting blocks.

We are not on pace to meet these critical goals and as a result, Ohio is missing out on billions of dollars of investment, thousands of jobs in the renewable energy industry, and massive amounts of affordable, clean, carbon free electric power. We need to get serious about investing in wind, solar, energy storage, and energy efficiency.

We Need Governor DeWine to Lead on the Clean Energy Transition

Governor DeWine has shown strong leadership in the last few months with his bold, nation-leading reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic and centering Ohio’s response on science and public health. And we know the communities that are being harmed the most by the virus are also disproportionately harmed by the state’s efforts to prop up dirty power. Pollution from dirty energy inflicts more harm on communities of color and low-income communities.

There is a better way, and our Governor must continue to be bold and lead us there now.

But Governor DeWine did not seize the leadership moment last week. Instead, he reacted to the alleged criminal activity with a series of confusing and distorted statements that vaguely referenced the need for clean energy. In back to back press conferences, the Governor and Lt. Governor both changed their opinion on whether HB6 should now be repealed, first defending HB6 and later joining the chorus of those calling for its repeal.

Of note, Lt. Governor Husted said that “Ohio needs zero carbon energy to meet our targeted goals for carbon reduction.” These statements are particularly noteworthy as Ohio does not currently have any targeted goals for carbon reduction.

Ironically, the only Ohio policies that have reduced carbon from Ohio’s power generation in any definable way were the renewable portfolio and energy efficiency resource standards, which Governor DeWine eliminated when he signed HB 6 into law in July 2019.

It’s time for clear vision and bold leadership on clean energy and climate that is based in science, not politics, and that reflects the will of Ohioans, not corporate interests.

Repeal House Bill 6

House Bill 6 was always the wrong direction for our state—a bad deal from the start. It bailed out an aging and uncompetitive nuclear fleet on the backs of electricity consumers, funneled money to two of the oldest coal plants in the country (including one over the border in Indiana), and repealed our state’s successful renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. But as if HB 6’s impact on Ohioans weren’t bad enough, last week it was revealed that lawmakers and wealthy corporate interests may have broken the law to get it done—a cynical gamble with Ohio’s energy future to the tune of $62M in bribes.

The fight must go on.

The first step forward must be to repeal House Bill 6 entirely and disrupt the balance of power that has tipped disproportionately toward Ohio’s utilities and special interests. For more than a decade, this state has hemmed and hawed over its energy policy, debating coal and nuclear bailouts in case after case before the Public Utilities Commission and in various bills before the Ohio legislature. The constant threat of regressive policy has created a culture of uncertainty around renewable energy and energy efficiency that sends a message to sustainability-minded investors that Ohio is a risky place to do business.

It’s time to give consumers their money back and start a real conversation about an energy policy that’s best for Ohio’s future and brings new jobs to our state.

The Way Forward on Truly Carbon-Free, Renewable Power

Energy policy can be extremely complicated, but it is clear that adding renewable energy to Ohio’s generation mix and reducing the amount of energy we waste every year through efficiency are foundational to eliminating pollution from the power sector while delivering low-cost power to our state’s electricity customers.

Ohio currently has roughly 710MWs of large-scale wind projects in operation and 500MWs of utility scale solar have commenced construction just this year. While Ohio’s renewable energy economy boasts nearly 10,000 jobs with significant growth potential, and with these projects representing the largest tax revenue source in the counties that host them, Ohio remains woefully behind the region—and the country—in clean energy generation.

The solution is clear and almost too obvious. The RPS is the most cost-effective, market-based means to drive new renewable additions in the state of Ohio and should be reinstated and expanded significantly, with arbitrary barriers to siting these projects removed.

Energy efficiency resource standards are a similarly effective tool for creating jobs, reducing pollution and saving customers money on their electric bills. Ohio has over 80,000 energy efficiency jobs, another sector of our economy with significant growth potential. Electricity customers in this state had saved over $5 billion in electricity costs through the efficiency standard before it was eliminated and had achieved a significant amount of carbon reductions by reducing the need for fossil fuels. Eliminating our energy efficiency standard was a drastic mistake that must be immediately remedied.

According to an NRDC review of the impacts of HB6, carbon emissions are expected to be 25 percent higher due to the elimination of these two important clean energy policies. This is true despite what the DeWine administration has said about the need to preserve “carbon-free power” in Ohio (which, perplexingly, appears to only refer to FirstEnergy’s nuclear plants, but not to the vast potential for truly carbon-free wind and solar power in the state). This uptick in emissions will be a direct effect of a lack of an energy efficiency strategy to keep electricity demand in check, and the removal of any coherent policy to foster the growth of renewable energy. If the Governor and Lt. Governor are serious about the need to reduce carbon emissions as they stated last week, these policies must be reinstated and expanded.

We Must Take Swift, Decisive Action

Other states around the Midwest are surging forward. The clean energy trend in our region is particularly important at this time of growing calls for leaders to take decisive action to mitigate climate change. Other states are now looking at energy policy from a much more ambitious, broader perspective (for example, see the proliferation of 100% clean power commitments that have dominated the energy space over the last year). Meanwhile, Ohio is caught up in a scandal, and progress is stalled.

We cannot stop at simply reinstating these standards through a HB6 repeal. We must expand on them and take decisive action on the largest sources of pollution in our state economy, including transportation, buildings, and industry. Added to this must be a discussion of policies that will upend the entrenched and disproportionate power that corporate interests have wielded for far too long at the Ohio statehouse. It’s time to get this regressive, special interest influence out of the decision-making process, stop holding back progress and make Ohio a place that people are proud to call home.

NRDC Expert Blog by Daniel Sawmiller.

Republished with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council's expert blogs.

Pat Remick's picture

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Discussions

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 31, 2020 3:41 am GMT

HB 6 is staying put, Pat. After Gov. DeWine originally supported a repeal, someone must have pointed out Ohio's two nuclear plants generate seven times as much clean energy as all Ohio wind, solar, and geothermal energy combined (below).

Maybe someone else reminded him Ohio's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), after eleven years and $billions of dollars in renewable energy credits charged to consumers, had increased wind and solar's penetration by a measly 3%.

Though by any standard renewables were a gross waste of money, what's never mentioned by opponents is that HB 6 generously entitles solar, wind, and geothermal to exactly the same zero-emission credit as nuclear. But now, of course, they'll have to compete on a level playing field - and they can't.

So after two failed court challenges, Pat, maybe it's time for NRDC, EDF, and the other big money orgs feeding at the renewables trough to throw in the towel. Gov. DeWine changed his mind - he will not sign off on a repeal of HB6 - and a good thing, too. Solar and wind have failed to lower U.S. carbon emissions for decades - now, it's time to move on to clean energy sources that yield results.
Solar panels, in 2019, provided less than 1% of Ohio's electricity.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 31, 2020 10:47 am GMT

Whether the end result was good or bad (obviously there are lots of opinions on that!), the process to get to HB 6 has unfortunately been tainted-- it's understandable for residents of Ohio to be skeptical and question it all at this point. Given that, I wonder if stakeholders from across the state's energy industry-- nuclear, renewable, and otherwise-- could come together to agree a new approach is needed to restore public trust in good faith efforts to 1) deliver reliable and affordable power, and 2) to do so in a way in line with decarbonization goals. It could be frustrating for those who felt they 'won' in HB 6, but going back to the drawing board might be necessary

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 1, 2020 3:10 pm GMT

Matt, though at this point Larry Householder is the only legislator who's been arrested for accepting bribes, any money changing hands between Householder's dark money non-profit, "Generation Now", and other legislators could lead to more arrests.

Not sure why media reports continue to label HB 6 a "nuclear bailout" bill. American Electric Power (AEP), with investments in two Ohio coal plants, had their own slush fund that may have contributed as much money, and had a lot more to gain:

"AEP benefited from the passage of House Bill 6 with its six-year-plus extension through 2030 of a monthly surcharg of up to $1.50 on Ohio residential electricity customers. Industrial and commercial customers can pay up to $1,500 a month. The fee generates about $50 million a year to subsidize a pair of old coal-burning power plants it partly owns in a consortium with other utilities."

AEP’s dark money group contributed to campaigns of arrested Ohio leaders

From involvement in California politics I've learned the hard way: without big money behind a bil it will never see the light of day. That's the reality. In 2020, the only difference between legally funneling money from a PAC into someone's campaign war chest and a bribe is filling out some paperwork. Householder crossed the line when he started using some of the money for his own purposes, but anyone who thinks the American Petroleum Institute didn't have as much money (or more) in the fight against HB 6 doesn't know how the process works.

Maybe a new administration in D.C. will be elected in November, and maybe legislators will address the root of the problem: the SCOTUS decision in Citizens United. Hope springs eternal.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 4, 2020 12:36 pm GMT

Ironic.  Getting rid of corruption requires more corruption!  Somehow, I don´t think that is the way out of this mess. The rest of the country does not have to follow Ohio´s or California´s example.

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